Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Wilderness and wildness

The Safari was full of wildness last week, everyone should try to fill themselves with wildness it's great for the soul and something that's lacking in the lives of too many people these days. Wildness isn't quite wilderness, with wildness you can be anywhere , even looking through your window at your garden - it's a state of mind, but wilderness requires a bit of remoteness.
Wilderness for us is somewhere we can't hear human noise, here in southern Scotland all we could hear was the wind, the waves,and wild sounds like the bubbling of the Curlews, the kleeping of the Oystercatchers and of course the yapping of the Barnacle Geese - all adding up to pure bliss.
This morning flock after flock of Barnacle Geese joined hundreds of others out on the mudflats where there were also a hundred or so Shelducks.
Much closer a Merlin (178) glided low over the rocks panicking a Curlew that was really far to big to be in any danger. Well beyond the action two white birds stood out among the throng of Barnacle Geese but they were in the furthest and largest flock away on the outer mudflats (isn't it always the case!). All of a oneness the whole flock took to the wing and we lost them.
A tiny proportion of the flock
without our scope the white ones were simply to far away to get any ID on but what were they? There's a few possibilities...albino/leucisic Barnacle Geese, Snow Geese or maybe just a couple of farmyard type Grey Lag Geese that had got themselves mixed up in the wrong crowd? A mystery to solve!
The weather was mild and there was a bit of passage through the morning with new Linnets on the beach, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits went overhead and a flock of about two dozen Swallows held at least one Sand Martin with them.
A second visit to RSPB Mersehead, an afternoon visit this time, was a fairly quiet affair. A Mistle Thrush on the drive to the reserve was a new species for the trip. We called into the visitor centre where the helpful lady on the desk told us there were two leucistic Barnacle Geese on the reserve last year, so we guess that's the mystery solved then!
The sky was full of geese again with Barnacles Geese, Pink Footed Geese and some Canada Geese sat on the wetland.
We walked down to the beach through the scratty trees, there wasn't much on the beach this time but turning back we saw a Great Crested Woodpecker high in one of the dead trees.
A Chiffchaff was in the trees too. When the geese were nowhere to be heard the soundtrack to the day was the thin calls of numerous Goldcrests and Robins. A Coal Tit was briefly seen in the woods too, while down on the water in front of the hide there was a family of three Little Grebes.
Hundreds of Pink Footed Geese appeared out of the low cloud over the high mountain, Criffel, at the back of the reserve. More Barnacle Geese came in too, what a fantastic sight and sound to witness. They dropped on to one of the paddocks where four Roe Deer were grazing - an awesome spectacle of wilderness. Earlier we'd only seen one of the deer, a buck.
A Red Admiral was again nectaring on Ivy flowers along the trackside hedge. At the pool there were lots of Wigeon and probably many more hidden in the dense rushes, far more than we noticed the previous day so perhaps fresh in overnight, 15 Snipe had a quick fly round too.
Another mild morning, calm and clear. In all our years of seeing Cormorants we can't ever remember it being so quiet that we were able to hear their wingbeats - a little like the sounds a Mute Swan's wings make but much quieter. Back out on the beach we walked down to our goose watching spot. It was so clear that the Isle of Man was poking it out in the distance.
Looks idyllic doesn't it but turn round and look at the strandline - sadly it's not that nice. The amount of plastic mixed in with the natural seaweed and driftwood was shocking, and this is a remote beach by our standards so it's mostly washed up plastic rather than litter dropped by beach-goers.
Also down there was a let go bundle of balloons from an organisation in Ireland - maybe they should think about protecting the environment for those saved babies to live in, there is no Planet B for them.
Good job there's not a dead seabird tangled up in this one! Don't forget folks #BalloonsBlow #DontLetGo
A day out sightseeing took us to the pretty riverside village of Gatehouse of Fleet. At the turn off from the main road there were a couple of Red Kites (178) circling over the roadside woodland. No chance of a pic from the car but hopefully we'd visit the feeding station later in the week.
We missed the Red Squirrel Wifey saw on the walk through the woods we took, a lucky sighting according to some locals we chatted to, the most exciting thing we could find was a calling Nuthatch, a fairly recent colonist in this part of the world and this little cluster of mushrooms.
While Monty had a play in the river with a new friend we were watching a Dipper working its way along the far bank.
From there we took a the road south back to the coast to a secluded little cove, Brighouse Bay, we'd discovered by pouring over the Ordnance Survey maps. What a cracking find, an absolutely stunning secluded little beach. It didn't take long to find a Wheatear at the top of the beach and the flock of pipits working the top strandline weren't Meadow Pipits but Rock Pipits (180). After a few minutes they left the top of the beach and came down to explore a pebbly bit of beach close to the tide line where they offered a couple of photo opportunities after a bit of fieldcraft.
So Rock Pipit makes its way onto our Year Bird Challenge at #154. What a superb find that little beach was, shouldn't have told you about it and kept it secret!
Passing a tiny wood in the middle of a field on the way out we spotted no fewer than five Buzzards soaring over it. Another Buzzard was seen from the supermarket car park as we kept Monty company while Wifey hit the aisles for supplies.
This was one of those wild wet n windy mornings we really wished we didn't have to take a dog out but suited and waterproof booted out you have to go! The small front garden had a tiny but well berried Hawthorn bush in the corner and opening the door we flushed a couple of 'black billed' Blackbirds from it - continental fresh arrivals???
Our walk on to the beach gave us three Twite sheltering in the vegetation  at the base of the sea defence works right under the nose of the cottage.
Back at the cottage the rain kept coming and coming it was a day for staying indoors. - our view of the lighthouse looked like this...
It should look like this...
The rain stopped briefly and with the break in the weather came eight Whooper Swans flying eastward up the firth. The rain came back with a vengeance and we were once again stuck looking out of the window at the procession of Blackbirds to-ing and fro-ing in and out of the little Hawthorn bush taking advantage of its bounty.
A late afternoon seawatch (in our slippers!) during a brighter spell in the even had us only finding a a Great Crested Grebe flying out to sea followed closely by a Common Scoter and then we found another Great Crested Grebe on the sea and not a lot else
We'll save the rest of the week for the next installment.
A couple of hours seawatch this morning gave is a Leach's Petrel and a skua sp and nothing else on the tails of Hurricane Ophelia.
Where to next? We might have a little shuffy at Marton Mere tomorrow morning
 In the meantime let us know what's on the rocks in your outback.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Skies full of geese

The Safari took the trail north over the border last week. As is usual for our longer journeys we kept a tally of the raptors we saw, it wasn't the best of days for raptors to be on the wing and that was reflected in the numbers seen, Buzzards 3 (of which we missed one) versus Kestrels 1. Dead things amounted to just one Fox (apart from a few Woodpigeons and numerous Pheasants recently released to be shot). Is there no wildlife left in the north of England, surely we'd expect more than that to end up squished along a 150 mile route?
A comfort stop for Monty by the river in Dumfries town centre had us missing an opportunity to get a snap of a Goosander although it would have had to have been a phone-pic as the cameras were packed well down in the back of the car. Three Red Admirals basking on a tree trunk enjoying the warm sunshine was nice to see, we disturbed a fourth from the grass as we walked Monty too.
Arriving at our cottage once unpacked it was time for a quick scan of the calm sea with the binoculars, a Harbour Porpoise was seen almost straight away not far offshore, great stuff!
Our first early morning Monty walk along the beach gave us a small number of Siskins at the top of a pine tree in a neighbouring garden, no chance of any pics for our Photo Challenge in the semi-dark at that time of the morning.
Then it was off for an hour or so before breakfast to the RSPB reserve Mersehead, a wetland and saltmarsh reserve of big skies on the narrow plain twixt the mountains and the sea.
The hedges along the path to the first hide were alive with birds, with every step there was a whirring of wings as the birds moved along the hedge in front of us before doubling back to a favoured spot on the far side of the thick bushes. There were Reed Buntings and Robins galore, Song Thrushes, Greenfinches, Dunnocks, Wrens, Linnets and a Chiffchaff. every foot along the grassy edge to the path, on both sides, had the imprint of a Badger's snout where they had been grubbing up worms overnight. It's a shame the same can't be said for all the other local hedgerows. Red from the multitude of berries was the dominant colour rather than the white of the shattered and splintered twigs and branches left behind by the farmers' flails on the other hedges leaving little food or shelter in this windswept landscape.
Surely it can't take much of a change for farmers across the land to produce hedges full of food like this
We heard Goldcrests deep in the hedges, Skylark, Rooks (which seem to rarely get a mention by the Safari these days) and Carrion Crows on the recently cut field and a Buzzard on a post.
Rook (left) and Carrion Crow (right)
Along the short woodland walk to the next hide a scurry in the grass down by our feet was either a shrew or a vole, it was lost in the undergrowth before we'd got any more than 'mammal' on it! Red Campion was still in flower and shafts of light coming through thee every dwindling canopy illuminated an area of Hawthorn leaves where a cluster of hoverflies were indulging in a mating ritual a bit like Strictly Come Dancing on an invertebrate scale.
Pink Footed Geese called as they flew overhead and on the wetland in the distance there was a flock of Grey Lag Geese and a few Canada Geese
Pink Footed Geese high up and possibly just fresh in from Iceland
But where were the site's speciality the Barnacle Geese? Oh here they are...among the very first arrivals of the autumn!
Coming in from the north over the mountains, their dog-like yapping calls soon filled the air...marvelous! Barnacle Geese (177, YBC #153)
Back along the hedgerow with only minutes to spare before having to return to Temporary Base Camp we noted Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and lots of Chaffinches, Robins and Blackbirds.
There were even House Sparrows in the hedge and around the barns and farmhouse, it was like stepping back to an earlier time in our youth when there was still 'bioabundance' in our countryside.
Insects were represented by Red Admirals feeding on Ivy flowers, no Ivy Bees up this far north yet but we were told they've reached the Fylde so that'll be one to look out for next week.
On the short drive back we saw a Jay and a Bullfinch fly across the road in front of us.
The tide was coming in as we arrived flushing Meadow Pipits of the beach and a couple of Ravens were passing overhead.
As we scanned the sea there were no Harbour Porpoises but there was a Red Throated Diver sheltering in the little bay in the lee of the rocks. It might have recently 'overlanded' from the east coast as it spent well over an hour just sitting preening and shaking itself down.
Further out on the sea there wasn't anything more than three Great Crested Grebes and more and more flights of Barnacle Geese overhead. A walk along the beach a little later saw Monty's nose finding a Harbour Porpoise vertebra.
Apologies for the out of focusness and/or camera shake
Where to next? We'll tell you about the rest of the week tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's just arrived in your outback.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Elementary my dear Leach's

The Safari is embarrassed to tell you that we dropped a huge bollard yesterday! The morning weather forecast was for a raging south westerly gale with rain coming on early afternoon., high tide was mid to late morning - that should have been enough to tell us to get down to the Prom for high tide and watch it down. But no, for some bizarre reason we had a bee in our bonnet about going to Stanley Park to see if we could come across the Ring Necked Parakeet that's been hanging around there for the last couple of weeks or so. Why???????????? Was the parakeet likely to come out of its hiding hole in a rampant gale, possibly not, would there be any Treecreepers out, probably not - are there any still there since so many of the big crinkly barked trees have been felled this year, really hope we haven't lost them as a breeding species in town but it may have happened. As it happened we saw neither, in fact in the wooded areas we saw very little and heard even less apart from the noise of the wind whipping the treetops around.
In desperation more than anything else we had a look at the lake. There wasn't a single gull on the rail, usually it's shoulder to shoulder on there. A Cormorant was all there was to be seen, on the 'wrong side of the light' as always.
This morning we were up north on the top of Rossall Tower with the Living Seas Wildlife Trust team helping out with a seawatch. The wind had swung round to the north west which is a duff direction for sea-birds along our coast and so it proved to be. We saw very little although a big bull Grey Seal hauled out on the new shingle island that is King's Scar. Also on there were around two dozen Eiders, a big flock of roosting Oystercatchers and Cormorants. It took a while but eventually between all the watchers present it was decided that the 'other seal' wasn't a seal but a lump of seal-like driftwood. Had us guessing most of the morning until it didn't move when the tide started washing over it.
This afternoon we had a stroll round the nature reserve but being a windy afternoon there was little to be found. All we could point the camera at were these few autunmal Oak leaves.
It really was that quiet!
Where to next? Not sure where we'll be on safari tomorrow but we could well be looking at some wildlife somewhere. 
In the meantime let us know who's making all the elementary mistakes in your outback.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

A bit breezy down on the nature reserve

The Safari has been having to do curtailed early morning Patch 1 walks due to the darkening mornings and bad weather. Mostly we've only been getting to the top field and the Golden Triangle rather than round the park or the rough fields further on, not only are the rough fields rough but they are now like quagmires after all the rain we've had. Still we've had a few interesting sightings like our first Skylark (P1 #41) and Meadow Pipits (P1 #42) although the latter have probably been forgotten to be added to the spreadsheet on an earlier date, they also appeared over Base Camp in small numbers the other day while we were doing a bit of vegetation hacking (Garden #29) - It's like a jungle at the back and although we don't like tidying up habitats just for the sake of it - as has been done recently on the top field, they've stripped out all the cover from under the hedge, it was going to die off anyway but at least some shelter would have been left, the bushes too have been turned into spherical lollipops; power tools make the butchery of the countryside (and wilder suburban areas) far too easy! - Goldcrests have been a feature too and we've seen a/the Kestrel on the water tower again. This morning a Goldcrest nearly had our eye out as it flew straight towards us being blown down the road by the strong wing, luckily for us and it it managed to dive into a thick garden shrub before any collision occurred.
Yesterday we'd arranged a trip out to far flung places with CR but a doggy disaster, not of our making this time, meant we'd have Monty in tow so we were forced to stay local and went to Marton Mere for the morning. The weather was worse than forecast so somewhere where it wasn't too far between hides in case of heavy rain was going to be a boon anyway.
The wetland was quiet as we walked in, it's probably still a bit too early in the season for a Stonechat to put in an appearance there and even if there was one the fierce wind would have kept it tucked well down in the vegetation anyway..
Our first stop in the reserve was at the refugium where no-one was home. From there it's only a short walk to the Viewing Platform where the light was against us but we gave it a good while failing to get any pics of the passing flock of Long Tailed Tits. A Heron came in and landed in the reeds along the north side but didn't flush out any Bitterns
With not a lot happening we wandered down to the Heron Hide where we watched a Cormorant come in from the south east and join a couple of its mates sat on the reed edge along the opposite bank.
C picked out a Little Grebe fishing in the fringes of the pool below us. For the most part it kept itself annoyingly tucked in behind the reeds and dived frequently meaning we were second-guessing where it would pop up all the time. Eventually it did come in to some open water and we were able to get a few shots off. Although it was actively fishing we never saw it surface with any prey, either it was unsuccessful or swallowing small invertebrate prey items underwater.
A Water Rail called and we got a count of nine Gadwall - nowhere near the 19 counted by TS, we obviously weren't trying hard enough!!! Taking advantage of a longer gap between showers we moved down to have a look on the scrape. With all the rain it's looking a bit too full of water for most waders although we wouldn't say no to a phalarope dropping in...no such luck today! Nearby is a large patch of Michaelmas Daisies which are great insect attractors and true to form had attracted the attention of a Red Admiral.
Overlooking the scrape is a bench which today was being taken advantage of by a Common Darter sunning itself to warm up between the showers and cloudy spells.
The 600mm isn't the best for macro invertebrate shots!
With the scrape empty save for a few Teal we continued our circuit stopping to look for the reported Peregrine in the field and any sign of the Kingfisher along the spillway and dyke, but had no joy with either.  
At the Bird Club Hide the grass and reeds on the bank directly in front of the hide have been cut but not to the sides so looking straight out is OK-ish - the reeds in the water still need cutting - looking out to the sides the view was limited making hunting for the Bittern which may (or more likely may not) be stood on the edge of the reeds on the far bank awkward. A Grey Wagtail (MMLNR #82) flew past high above the reeds struggling to make much progress in the wind and a Sparrowhawk appeared over the reeds on the far bank and dropped into the scrape flushing out a small flock of Teal.
Easily the best sighting here was a very quick Stoat dashing from left to right along the water's edge, it appeared to be carrying something small but was far too quick for either of us to lift the camera. So after not seeing one anywhere for several years we've now seen two in a week here - how mad is that, it just shows how unpredictable wildlife watching can be...and that's the essence of it, you never know what you might come across but one thing is for sure - if you don't go out you won't see nowt (#IFYDGOYWSN).
Looking at the clouds to the north west a break gave us the chance to leg it round to the Feeding Station. It was lively in there. Good numbers of Chaffinches as usual,
Singles of Reed Bunting, Dunnock and a Chiffchaff that was too close to the hide window for us to get a pic of, cracking views though - didn't even need the binoculars. It came in twice both to the same Willow bush right by the window.
Most of the entertainment was provided by the Blue and Great Tits. The peanut feeder was particularly popular with the Blue Tits, we tried for five but as a fifth flew in one of the four was flushed off.
Suddenly there was a bit of a panic and the small birds scarpered in to cover. A Grey Squirrel arrived on the scene and no matter how well protected from the raiders the feeders are they always seem to get a meal - and a big one at that.
Star of the session was a cracking male Great Spotted Woodpecker. For once it was on one of the closer feeders and wasn't bothered by our hushed conversation or clicking shutters. We both filled our boots.
It wasn't even bothered when a Great Tit joined it on the feeder, sometimes they can be a bit feisty and chase off all-comers.
Quality viewing!
Before heading back to the car we had another look from the Viewing Platform where a Cetti's Warbler was heard and more surprisingly a Jay (MMLNR #83) seen  flying across the mere. We got a pic but it's hardly conclusive!
So with no sign of any Bitterns or Otters and now getting hungry we called it a day and wandered back to the car passing a hunting Kestrel on the way, the first sighting of the morning.
Not a bad morning out given the weather especially the strong wind, there's always something to see if you look - or if you get lucky!
Where to next? We're helping out with the Living Seas team doing a seawatch tomorrow morning and with several Leach's Petrels seen from the Prom this morning we're hopeful for something exciting provided trhe wind does turn too far to the north - fingers crossed.
In the meantime let us know who's jay-walking across your skies.